WASHINGTON, Sept. 5, 2017 – The Center for Biological Diversity filed a Freedom of Information Act request today for public records detailing the Environmental Protection Agency’s decision to attack an Associated Press reporter covering the flooding of toxic Superfund sites in Houston.
The EPA Office of the Administrator took the extraordinary step of describing AP reporter Michael Biesecker’s reporting as “yellow journalism.” In an error-ridden press release, the agency attacked Biesecker and incorrectly stated that the AP did not have any on-the-ground reporting in in Houston, when in fact another AP reporter, Jason Dearen, was present in Houston. The EPA’s press release failed to point out any actual factual inaccuracies in the AP story.
“Amid catastrophic flooding at some of America’s most toxic industrial sites, Pruitt is more concerned about protecting his image than the people of Houston,” said Amy Atwood, a senior attorney at the Center. “The EPA should be working overtime to contain pollution from these dangerously contaminated facilities. Instead the Trump administration is wasting time attacking journalists for reporting the truth.”
On Saturday the AP reported that the EPA had no personnel on the ground in Houston monitoring dozens of Superfund sites that could have been inundated by Hurricane Harvey and potentially causing releases of toxic materials into the water. Although at the time of the story EPA officials offered no evidence they had visited the flooded Superfund sites in Houston, AP reporters visited seven sites that were discussed in the report.
“The public has every right to know why the EPA is choosing to spend so much of its time attacking the media rather than using that energy to help victims of Harvey,” said Atwood.
Biesecker drew Pruitt’s ire earlier this year when he wrote a story detailing Dow Chemical’s outsized influence in the Trump EPA. The story revealed that shortly after the Trump EPA reversed a planned ban of Dow’s brain-damaging pesticide chlorpyrifos, Dow asked the administration to stop legally required work assessing the harms that pesticide, and two others, caused to endangered plants and animals.
The back-channel ploy to convince federal agencies to abandon a nearly four-year effort to protect endangered species from these pesticides is revealed in letters, obtained by the Center, in which Dow urged the Trump administration and EPA Administrator Pruitt to withdraw “biological evaluations” that were finalized in January detailing how the three highly toxic organophosphate insecticides — chlorpyrifos, malathion and diazinon — harm nearly all 1,800 threatened and endangered animals and plants.